Most people will be familiar with the role of a physiotherapist as they help a wide range of people with a variety of conditions and injuries.

Patients can see a physiotherapist after an injury, before childbirth, to help with their back pain and manage long-term health conditions such as asthma.

They are also commonly known for their role in recovering from sporting injuries and helping athletes manage long-term injuries. As it was the Summer of Sport in 2021, we wanted to celebrate the role physio’s play in the world of sport, including the biggest sporting event of them all… The Olympics!

In this blog, we’ll be highlighting the many ways physiotherapists work behind the scenes to keep athletes at the top of their game.

How do Physiotherapists get to work in sport?

All physiotherapists in the UK train to become approved by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. They do this either through a University degree or through a physiotherapist degree apprenticeship.

Once they are registered, they can then go on to specialize in sports physiotherapy. It’s a competitive field, with many physiotherapists competing to work with the top athletes and sports clubs across the UK and the world.

Most sports physiotherapists will undertake years of voluntary work with sports clubs to get ahead of the competition by showing their commitment to working in sport.

What do Sports Physiotherapists do?

The role of a sports physiotherapist will vary depending on the sport they are working in and the athletes professional status.

Some will have a leadership role within a club or organisation, providing expertise and knowledge to support the athlete’s performance. Others may be purely focused on assessing and preventing injury. However, there are vital areas that sports physiotherapists help all athletes with.

Physiotherapists work with athletes and clubs by providing:

  • Injury treatment – Assess and treat acute injuries during training or performance using methods such as manipulation, massage, and electrotherapy.
  • Injury prevention – Assess the risk of injury in their specific sport and work with athletes, coaches, and players to train in a way that reduces the risk of injury.
  • Rehabilitation – As well as diagnosing and treating sports injuries, sports physiotherapists will work with the athlete and their team (coaches, managers, etc.) to plan treatment programmes. They will also design and evaluate interventions to help the athlete safely return to their sport as quickly as possible.
  • Performance enhancement – Pyshiotherapists can enhance athlete’s performances by evaluating their physical condition and performance levels. They can then offer advice or intervene with treatment to improve their physical condition and performance.
  • Advice and support for athletes – A large part of their role is to offer continued, evidence-based advice to help athletes minimise their risk or injury by promoting a healthy and safe lifestyle.

Often the role can be seen simply as a way to help athletes with recovery, but as you can see, there are many facets to the work of a physiotherapist in the world of sport. Their role is becoming increasingly vital in enhancing and maintaining performance. This is even more crucial when athletes put their bodies under immense pressure at significant sporting events and competitions like the Olympics.

What role do Physiotherapists play in the Olympics?

The Olympics have dominated our screens this summer, but behind the athleticism, stories, and medals, teams of people support the athletes, including physiotherapists. In fact, at the London 2021 Olympics and the Tokyo 2022 Olympics, physiotherapists were the largest professional working group. This fact alone proves the importance of physiotherapists in elite athlete’s careers.

In Tokyo, the core team of physiotherapists was comprised of 800 members of the Japanese Physical Therapy Association. On top of that, Team GB alone bought another 52 physio clinicians.

Where do all these physios work during the Olympics? At the Tokyo games, physiotherapy was provided at athlete medical stations and every competitive venue. Physiotherapy services were also available in the Olympic Village from 7 am – 11 pm. At the 2012 London games, many athletes went to physiotherapists before and between competing in their events.

Team GB even had their own ‘performance lodge’ at Tokyo. A specialist centre outside of the Olympic Village, dedicated to recovery and relaxation where physio would also take place. 40 of Team GB’s physio team at Tokyo were there to work with specific sporting events. This allowed therapists to provide tailored physiotherapy work with athletes in their field of expertise.

Do you work as a sports physiotherapist, or are you an athlete that benefits from their work? We’d love to hear your experiences. Share them with us in the comments!